Digital transformation and the value equation

How are the big disruptive changes affecting the New Zealand construction business? As part of AECOM’s 2017 Sentiment Report, digital specialist Colette Munro provides insights into the latest technologies

There is no shortage of new digital technology that can deliver cost savings and productivity improvements for infrastructure projects and their ongoing operation and maintenance. Just consider the Internet of Things, virtual reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Blockchain and building information modelling (better known as BIM) – to name a few. These are not buzz words; they are the result of significant investment around the globe in research and development. There are endless conferences and an unrelenting amount of social media covering them. However, selecting the right technology is just the start of the digital journey. Digital is both a set of technologies and a way of thinking.

Delivering the desired outcomes requires organisations to develop a deliberate digital strategy. This supports the selection of the right technologies and the ability to extract maximum value from the data insights those technologies deliver.

For example, the rail industry globally is trending towards the increased use of sensors. There is a move away from fixed recording cars toward sensors on operating trains, called Instrumented Revenue Vehicles. This approach significantly reduces the costs of collecting track infrastructure data and increases the amount of data available to make decisions about infrastructure condition, allowing for more accurate prediction of failure.

This pattern is also occurring in other linear assets such as highways, where many owners and operators around the world are searching for the right technology solutions to deliver these maintenance cost savings.

To take advantage of the right technologies, infrastructure owners may also need to adjust their thinking. Digital technologies change rapidly and understanding where you are on the digital journey is important. Historically, the focus has been to build physical infrastructure that will support generations, leading to an organisational mindset of ‘build to last’.

When it comes to digital assets, infrastructure owners must invest with a mindset of ‘build for change’, allowing for rapid and ongoing change to occur. BIM for linear assets is a great example of where there is a need to invest, but to be prepared for ongoing change. BIM relies on objects that for buildings are well defined in regards to classifications systems and open object standards. But for linear assets such as roads and railways the standards are still being developed. In the interim, organisations need to develop these objects and be ready to refine these objects as standards mature. Collaborating within a common object library would reduce effort and increase efficiency. The NBS National BIM Library ( is a good example.

If we zero in on just one area – transport – we see a number of digital strategies that successfully utilise the technology now available. Transport on Demand, Connected Journeys, Autonomous Cars, and Road User Pays programmes will have a profound impact on the future of transport system design as well as ongoing operations and maintenance. This is just one area that highlights how well-defined and executed digital strategies, alongside the associated investment in digital assets, have the potential to result in more liveable and productive cities.

Since 2012, AECOM’s New Zealand business has surveyed the construction market to assess how those in the industry are feeling about the work outlook. We take the results of that survey and create the Sentiment Report. This article is one of three expert insights into infrastructure challenges featured in the 2017 Sentiment Report. 

The full report can be read in digital form here.